THE BLOG

The Critical Life Skill Kids Should Learn at Camp

05/28/2015 05:30 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2016

Where did you learn to swim, read a map or be part of a team? There's a good chance it was at camp, right? We know that camp is not just a place for kids to spend a fun summer, but an excellent setting in which kids can learn life skills that they will rely on long after the camp experience has passed.

So with all of the current focus on child and adult obesity and the many harmful effects of diet- and lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer, why shouldn't we should be thinking more about how the camp setting can help children develop healthy, lifelong habits that are known to slow or prevent these ills?

If you attended camp yourself, your fond (or not-so-fond) memories of camp fare likely include the typical hot dogs, pizza and Jell-O. But these days, both out of growing parental concern and because camp organizers recognize that kids need quality, healthy food to stay fueled for their action-packed days, many camps have revamped their cuisine and now offer choices ranging from "fusion water" rather than sports drinks at the Pocano Mountains' Camp Towanda to whole wheat pasta and fully stocked salad bars at camps around the country.

In some cases, camps may offer an array of healthy choices that is either comparable to or perhaps even wider than what kids are used to being offered at home. But this doesn't necessarily mean that kids will choose to eat them. Many factors besides the actual taste of the food are at play when it comes to what kids actually eat. Peer pressure, for example, is notoriously a factor when it comes to kids making bad choices, but it also goes the other way. If you child enters the dining hall with his or her new best camp friend and that child heads straight for the salad bar, there's a good chance your child will pile on the veggies, too.

2015-05-28-1432833757-5076940-2013072512.02.51.jpg

Campers at New Jersey's HealthBarn, USA summer camp grow and cook produce.

What's more, children who are provided with opportunities to interact with healthy foods - whether that's by planting and tending to vegetables in a garden plot or cooking a healthy recipe - are more likely to consume those foods. By offering campers these hands-on experiences, camps will not only be encouraging campers to take full advantage of the healthy items on the camp's menu there and then, but equipping kids with one more tool to help them live happy, healthy, successful lives by choosing a healthy diet later in life.

And since summer is the high point of produce season, there's no better time for kids to learn how delicious seasonal fruits and vegetables can be. Many camps now offer small garden plots, which provide the perfect opportunity for kids to interact with healthy foods. Got a kid who hates tomatoes? Chances are, what he actually dislikes are the pale pink mid-winter grocery store variety. Give that same child an opportunity to pluck ripe a cherry tomato right off of the vine and give it a taste while still warm from the sun - there's no better remedy for tomato-phobia!

Even better, when camps offer basic cooking activities, kids learn skills they're excited to continue to develop with their families during the school year. Many simple, healthy recipes require little cooking equipment, so any camp can offer cooking activities with a few simple supplies.

The Kids Cook Monday is a non-profit campaign that offers a collection of simple, healthy recipes and a free Toolkit for Educators to help camp leaders learn the benefits and best practices of cooking with kids. Check out this recipe for Tomato Pops, contributed by our friends at Crunch a Color. We especially love this recipe for the camp setting as it's perfect for using the products of a camp garden plot, but the ingredients are also easily accessible at a local farmers market. Plus, it's fun to eat and it requires hardly any equipment!

2015-05-28-1432834232-5514482-TomatoPops3.jpg

Tomato Pops
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 bunch fresh basil
1 cup fresh mozzarella balls
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
12 long wooden skewers

Directions:
Kid: Remove the green tops from the cherry tomatoes, wash them in a colander and transfer to a medium mixing bowl.
Kid: Pick about 30 basil leaves off the bunch of fresh basil and add them to the bowl as well.
Kid: Drain the mozzarella balls from their packing oil and transfer them to the same mixing bowl.
Together: Slowly pour the oil onto the tomato-mozzarella mixture while mixing with large wooden spoons to ensure the oil is evenly distributed. Season with the kosher salt, stirring to ensure ingredients are evenly seasoned.
Together: Spear the veggies and cheese onto the skewers, alternating between tomatoes, mozzarella and basil several times per spear. Arrange the tomato pops artfully in a vase and enjoy!

The Kids Cook Monday is a project of The Monday Campaigns, an ACA Educational Ally. For more information on cooking with kids at camp, visit the ACA's Monday Campaigns partnership page and download The Kids Cook Monday's Toolkit for Educators and other free resources. And for parents seeking to encourage their kids to make healthy choices at camp by cooking healthy meals together at home, check out The Kids Cook Monday's free weekly recipe newsletter, The Family Dinner Date.